Running Right—Something that Worked in a Mostly Forgettable Game
Updated: Oct 28, 2020
The Broncos' run game was one of the few things that went right against the Chiefs this week. While Kansas City has not done well stopping the run, Denver being able to move the ball on the ground against them was not a given. (Remember when the Broncos planned on establishing the run last year but got stonewalled for less than 4 yards per carry?) So while much of this most recent game went poorly, it was satisfying to at the very least watch the Broncos dominate on the ground.
By the end of the first quarter it was clear that the Broncos' plan of attack was to run the ball to the right. A quick look at the Next Gen post-game charts confirmed this—only 5 of Phillip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon's combined 26 carries went to the left of center.
Phillip Lindsay Carries vs. Kansas City Chiefs, Week 7 (Next Gen Stats)
Watching all these successful runs to the right side made me think that RG Graham Glasgow and RT Demar Dotson were having monster games. They certainly played well, but in rewatching many of these plays I was surprised to find that it was actually the left side of the line that was really showing out.
It's often said that the pass game is about matchups and the run game is about numbers. This week, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur did a fantastic job of consistently generating a numbers advantage on the right side of the field. To accomplish this, he took advantage of our mobile guys on the left side of the line, continually pulling Garett Bolles and Dalton Risner around to the right (often along with a FB or TE) to outflank the defense and open massive lanes.
On this play, the Broncos lined up with two TEs (Nick Vannett and Noah Fant) on the right side of the line. This formation presents a 6 on 6 to the play side of the field, which is already a favorable situation for the offense. (Circled defenders with colored jerseys vs. the C, RG, RT, TE, TE, and FB).
Shurmur's play design then improved on the already advantageous pre-snap alignment by pulling Risner from the left to the right. Here's how the play unfolded (shown at half speed).
Some notes on the action:
FB Jeremy Cox's first step is to the left, causing rookie LB Willie Gay (#50) to effectively run himself out of the play
Cox's counter motion also causes the S to fill the hole late; Cox gets to him before he can plug the lane
Risner (#66, pulling) gets all the way around to the far side of the formation and makes an excellent block on #54, the LOLB
Noah Fant (at the top end of the line) executes his assignment to perfection, climbing to the second level and sealing off the MLB
Glasgow, Cushenberry, Dotson, and Vannett also do their jobs as well, but this play's success really hinges on the above players' ability to make blocks on the run.
This next play contains many of the same elements: a pulling lineman from the left side to outflank the defense, a great block from a tight end, and Phil looking like he's shot out of a cannon. The pre-snap numbers aren't quite as advantageous as before, though, with 6 play-side defenders to 5 blockers (C, RG, RT, TE, WR).
But Bolles comes all the way around from his LT spot to even up the numbers game (6 on 6) and seal the LOLB.
Some more things to look for:
Glasgow winds up putting a block on the backside ILB, leaving the playside ILB (in the circle above) free to make the tackle. But Lindsay makes him miss by pressing the hole (to Bolles' inside shoulder) and then exploding outside once the LB has lost his angle.
Glasgow helps Cushenberry before working to the second level
Vannett and Dotson once again work together to perfectly seal the edge
Tim Patrick takes care of his man
I'm not sure why Phil doesn't finish this run and get the first down, but overall it's another well-executed run across the board. And, like before, it's the athleticism and mobility of a player on the left side that provides the key block.
The Broncos didn't exclusively use these power/pull plays—they mixed in a bit of successful zone runs too—but these two clips are emblematic of how they dominated Kansas City on the ground. Shurmur schemed up advantageous numbers on the right side by taking advantage of the athletes on our line: Bolles, Risner, Fant, and Vannett all excelled at blocking while on the move.
A few final thoughts:
Shurmur got creative in how he used blockers. At one point he lined Bolles up on the right side, next to Demar Dotson, and called a rollout for Lock behind both of the tackles. On a different play he lined three tight ends up on the same side of the line (the right side), each right next to the other.
Speaking of tight ends, Fant has come a long way as a blocker. I'll be keeping my eye on this, but it looks like he's managed to eliminate the frequent boneheaded mistakes he made as a blocker last year and is starting to make better use of his outrageous movement skills in the run game.
Bolles also continued his tremendous season. He earned a 91.2 run blocking grade from PFF against the Chiefs—which is truly elite—and has a 91.2 overall grade for the season. He's transforming from Gumbolles into Probolles before our very eyes.
Cushenberry got beat for a sack on yet another lateral move, continuing his struggles in pass pro, but did his job in the run game.
We ran so heavily to the right because Bolles and Risner are athletic dudes that can cover a ton of ground. These weren't inside gap runs, but outside runs that required the pulling lineman to get all the way across the formation and set a block on the far side of the play. There's no way Dotson hauls his 35 year old ass across the line to the far side C gap.
Bolles' and Risner's athleticism made this strategy strategy possible, but it was truly a team effort. Credit to all the guys doing work in the trenches, Vannett, Fant, and Cox included. Let's just hope that the run game continues to go right, in all senses of the word.